February 8, June 9, October 9

The eleventh step of humility is that a monk speaks gently and without laughter, seriously and with becoming modesty, briefly and reasonably, but without raising their voice, as it is written: “A wise man is known by his few words.”

After emphasising silence as a humble default, rather than words, the rule now moves on to describe some of the characteristics of the humble speaker. When speech becomes necessary, how are the humble to use words?

When speaking, it is good for the tongue to wait for the mind. If words run ahead of consciousness, we can end up saying too much, much of which may be said to simply fill gaps, perhaps coming from the ego more than anything else. The humble speak in spacious and brief sentences.   

In this way it is hoped that words will not travel too far from the life of the Spirit. So, the humble give themselves every chance by speaking seriously (rather than solemnly), modestly, reasonably, and without undue volume. This is not self-conscious speech; is it speech emerging from an inner life shaped by silence and an awareness of limitation. It is simply the way those immersed in humility speak.  

Gentle speech does not press opinion, assumption, and perception onto others and circumstance. Here words are wisely used, respecting the way they can claim attention and create meaning. This is how the gentle speak; those who are tender with life, participating rather than manipulating, giving space to others. To be gentle is to be humble.  

The way words are used can reveal attitude and the shape of an inner life. The character of words can make the invisible visible. Words used forcefully can expose a forceful life. The spiritual and humane life is not about force; it is about a growing receptiveness to the life of love within. Becoming humble is all about this receptiveness. It follows, then, that the humble are not violent with words.       

Flee from the passions of youth, pursue uprightness, faith, love and peace, in union with all those who call on the Lord with a pure heart. Avoid these foolish and undisciplined speculations, understanding that they only give rise to quarrels; and a servant of the Lord must not engage in quarrels, but must be kind to everyone, a good teacher, patient and gentle when he corrects people who oppose him, in the hope that God may give them a change of mind to recognise the truth, and come to their senses, (2 Tim. 22-26a, RNJB)